|U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Carlos M. Vazquez II|
Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby confirmed Tuesday that the plotting was far along.More from the Long War Journal:
“This is a very dangerous group,” Kirby told Fox News. “We had information, good information that they were very actively plotting and very close to the end of that plotting -- and planning an attack on targets either in Europe or the U.S. homeland.”
As for the result of the airstrikes, he said: “We think we hit what we were aiming at.”
The US-led bombing campaign in Syria is targeting the Al Nusrah Front, an official branch of al Qaeda, as well as the Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot that is one of Al Nusrah's fiercest rivals.
Before they were launched, the air strikes were framed as being necessary to damage the Islamic State, a jihadist group that has seized large swaths of territory across Syria and Iraq. But in recent days US officials signaled that they were also concerned about al Qaeda's presence in Syria, including the possibility that al Qaeda operatives would seek to use the country as a launching pad for attacks in the West.
Several well-connected online jihadists have posted pictures of the Al Nusrah Front positions struck in the bombings. They also claim that al Qaeda veterans dispatched from Afghanistan to Syria, all of whom were part of Al Nusrah, have been killed.
Among the Al Nusrah Front positions targeted in the bombings are locations where members of the so-called "Khorasan group" are thought to be located. Ayman al Zawahiri, the emir of al Qaeda, sent the group to Syria specifically to plan attacks against the US and its interests. The group, which takes its name from al Qaeda's Khorasan shura (or advisory) council, is reportedly led by Muhsin al Fadhli, an experienced al Qaeda operative who has been involved in planning international terrorist attacks for years.
Al Fadhli's presence in Syria was first reported by the Arab Times in March. Shortly thereafter, The Long War Journal confirmed and expanded on this reporting. [See LWJ report, Former head of al Qaeda's network in Iran now operates in Syria.] The Long War Journal reported at the time that al Fadhli's plans "were a significant cause for concern among counterterrorism authorities."
The New York Times reported earlier this month that al Fadhli leads the Khorasan group in Syria.
Unconfirmed reports on jihadist social media sites say that al Fadhli was killed in the bombings. Neither US officials, nor al Qaeda has verified this reporting. The fog of war often makes it difficult to quickly confirm whether an individual jihadist has been killed, wounded, or survived unscathed. Initial reports should be treated with skepticism and there is no firm evidence yet that al Fadhli has been killed.
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More on the Al Nusrah Front here:
Al-Nusra Front (also the Nusra Front or Jabhat al-Nusra) was formed in late 2011, when Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) emir Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi sent operative Abu Muhammad al-Julani to Syria to organize jihadist cells in the region. The Nusra Front rose quickly to prominence among rebel organizations in Syria for its reliable supply of arms, funding, and fighters—some from donors abroad, and some from AQI. Considered well trained, professional, and relatively successful on the battlefield, they earned the respect and support of many rebel groups, including some in the secular Free Syrian Army (FSA). However, al-Nusra also made some enemies among the Syrian people and opposition by imposing religious laws, although the group has shied away from the types of brutal executions and sectarian attacks that made AQI unpopular. Al-Nusra was also the first Syrian force to claim responsibility for terrorist attacks that killed civilians. (footnotes omitted)So, it's not really that the Al Nusrah Front and the Khorasan group just sprang up - but have been around and have enjoyed the chaos of Syria as providing recruiting and a safe haven.
Al-Nusra is affiliated with AQ and has pledged allegiance to the organization, serving as its only official branch in the Syrian conflict after global AQ emir Ayman al-Zawahiri publicly disowned ISIS following months of ISIS disobedience to AQ orders.